#53 Esmeralda Basin & Fortune Pass
Updated: Oct 9, 2018
For our first backpacking trip together, our group chose Esmeralda Basin via Fortune Pass. And, it was awesome! Going into it, I had thought that the loop was only seven miles but it ended up being twelve strenuous miles. Our crew got to the trail head around mid-afternoon and it was PACKED with people headed up to Lake Ingalls. Lots of people were badly parked so you couldn't turn around. I had to put the car in reverse and drive backwards until there was space to turn around. We ended up parking in an open section about a mile down the trail head on FR 9730. As a head's up, we saw lots of people with the Discover Pass but this trail requires the Northwest Forest Pass.
Distance: 11.8 mile loop | GPS: 47.4361, -120.9372
Elevation Gain: 1750 ft | Peak: 5960 ft
Snoqualmie Pass | My Hiking Master Post
The trail began at a tiny waterfall. The fall colors surrounded us and the views were spectacular. We ascended for a bit, heading through increasingly sparse forest. Soon, it looked like a rocky moonscape. At the very top, we saw a cairn and a split in the trail: left and right. We took the (less maintained) left-sided trail and it took us up to a tall peak with incredible views. That trail ended and we back tracked. After checking our map, we figured out that the right side, marked by a series of cairns, was the connection to the next part of the trail.
We descended out of the moonscape and back into the forest. Meadows broke up groves of trees, the colors ranging from bright reds to soft golds. It was getting darker and we were getting nervous because we hadn't found a place we wanted to camp yet...
A couple of hikers thought we could make it to Gallagher Lake before nightfall; so we tried it. The hiking trail dropped us onto a 4x4 road that bifurcated a few times. This slowed us down a lot because we had to consult our topographical map whenever it split. It got dark realllly fast and we got out headlamps. The temperature started to drop as we hiked into the night... so a few of us scouted ahead to search for a camping spot. We found a semi-open field with some established camp sites and set up camp.
The other group had spoken with a car traveling on the ATV road. They said we were maybe a half mile from Gallagher Lake but we were too tired. So, we just camped there and shared a meal. I fell asleep easy and only woke up once when deer wandered through our camp. One thing I will say is that, at night, when you walk around... a rock will seem miles away and then you'll wake up and it'll turn out that it's like five feet behind the tent.
In the morning, we crawled out of our tents to enjoy gorgeous views of the mountain we'd just climbed. We had a leisurely breakfast and took off! The Boulder-De Roux Trail followed De Roux Creek and, because we were heading downhill, the end of the trail came faster than we thought. After seeing the car, we cheered and, exhausted, headed to Leavenworth to enjoy some German sausages!
The Esmeralda Basin loop was a great backpacking trip for beginners. It really stressed map utilization and challenged us when we had to choose the correct connections between trails.